Sue Yeon Park
Korean dancer and musician
2008 NEA National Heritage Fellow
New York, NY
Sue Yeon Park was born August 22, 1958, on Kanghwa, an island near the mouth of the Han River in South Korea. Her family was deeply involved with shamanic Buddhism, and Park became obsessed with the shaman’s dance when she was very young. She once skipped school to attend a gut, a two- or three-day ritual performed by a mudang, or shaman. The shaman sings and dances during the gut, usually accompanied by three or four musicians who are typically family members. In the Seoul area, the gut includes a banquet followed by music and dancing. When Park was eleven, she became so carried away by post-banquet dancing that she grabbed the shaman’s janggo, an hourglass shaped drum, and danced with it. The shaman told Park’s mother that the child would become either a professional dancer or a kangshin mudang, a shaman who has no hereditary ties to the profession but receives the spirits.
In her portrait, Sue Yeon Park wears her costume for the Salpuri form of Korean dance, which is rooted in ancient shamanism. The solo dancer expresses both beauty and sadness to bring peace after a loss. The long, billowy white dress, called a hanbok, covers the feet, on which are worn beo-seon socks. The hanbok has a blouse, skirt, and belt. Controlled movements with a large white silk handkerchief are an important part of the dance and symbolize the dancer’s state of mind and emphasize her subtle movements. Sue Yeon Park chose not to wear the elaborate face makeup that practitioners of this dance usually wear, showing more deeply how the costume is a medium of expression.